It’s fair to say that each domestic self-build, extension or refurbishment project is unique, and each comes with its own very particular set of pros and cons. Few, however, must be in such stark contrast as those of the Lanham family: Andrew and Mandy and their three children Rosie, Sam and Beth.
In early 2005, the Lanhams moved from their extended end-of-terrace home on one side of their beautiful Sussex village, and decamped to a more cramped and dated 1930s property they had just stretched themselves to purchase at the other. The success of their move was entirely dependent on being able not just to refurbish the diminutive three bedroom house, but to also build a two storey extension to the rear of the property, large enough to nearly double the existing internal square footage, creating essential family living space and a vital extra bedroom.
The family would have to move into the new house straightaway, making do with its existing layout and facilities until planning for an extension was granted. Once granted, the Lanhams hoped to segue completion of the main structural build – at which point they would be left with no choice but to move out – into the two-month window of opportunity provided by the next school summer holidays, when the kids would be able to stay elsewhere for the duration. Hopefully, the family would then return to a habitable watertight shell for the start of September and the new school term.
So it would initially seem that the Lanhams were about have their work cut out, adhering to a finely timed schedule with no margin for error — even if they got planning for the extension approved to their satisfaction and early enough in the first instance.
However, the family did have a rather large ace up their sleeve — Andrew is a qualified architect who would be taking on the planning, design and execution of the project himself. Not only this, but the build would be undertaken with the major added bonus of free skilled labour brought in from the residential construction company he also runs alongside his practice.
“In hindsight, they were pretty big advantages,” admits Andrew, now happily ensconced at a family sized farmhouse table in the newly created kitchen/dining area. “But it’s a rather chicken-and-egg situation in that if we didn’t have the confidence of that extra expertise we probably wouldn’t have embarked on this plan in the first place. As it was, we were in a position where it had become a necessity to move from our previous home: an end of terrace still short on space – which we’d already extended as far as we possibly could – and we were able to take advantage of a well-timed opportunity with this place at the other end of the village. It was somewhere we were all very happy to be moving to.
“The property itself was of modest construction, probably built around the 1930s with a gambrel roof and tile-hung gables above a white weatherboarded ground floor,” continues Andrew. “The real attraction here lay in the spacious third-of-an-acre established gardens surrounding the house, the bulk of which gently sloped away at the rear, giving plenty of room to extend while providing a real ‘wow’ factor: the spectacular west-facing view across a completely unspoilt valley. I suppose that as an architect it’s those combinations of great elements ready to exploit that excite you about a place rather than what’s already there — but in this instance I think we all saw the potential immediately.”
Soon after purchasing and moving into the property, Andrew set to the task of drawing plans for maximising the potential of the new family home. His first proposal was turned down by the local authority as ‘too bulky’. However, after refining his initial design and reducing the proposed rear perimeter by a metre, a re-application – made just two months later – was duly granted.
“The crux of the design rested on two main elements,” Andrew explains. “Creating good-sized, family-friendly interior spaces that capitalised on the view and allowed as much light to flow into the house as possible — and an exterior style that matched the existing vernacular and also gave the impression that the extension could actually have been a series of sympathetic additions carried out over the years — rather than being one totally new two storey element bolted on the back. “We achieved that,” he continues, “by staggering the line of the extension, varying the combinations of cladding materials and building the roof in two separate pitches. It was also the opportunity to ‘rebalance’ the exterior look of the property with its heavily tile-hung first storey and roof, which we’ve achieved by cladding the first storey above the glazed stick-frame section of the rear extension – where the new kitchen/dining room now is – using white weatherboarding that matches the original house.”
The plans may have been in place, but as summer arrived the Lanhams faced their biggest challenge — executing the bulk of the build in just two months, with no margin for delay.
So at the start of July, the old summerhouse on the rear of the property was torn down and foundation work began. A few weeks later, at the end of term, Mandy and the kids left the house for the duration of the holidays, leaving Andrew project managing while he camped on site. “As you can imagine, the British summer didn’t help much,” he recalls, “but I was lucky enough to be able to call on as much labour as I needed at any given moment, so I’m delighted to say that by September everybody was able to return to a watertight and considerably larger home, which we’d even managed to plaster internally.”
With the timber frame extension erected and the new upstairs now divided to incorporate proper family accommodation, including a master bedroom with en suite, three further bedrooms and bathroom, the Lanhams now embarked on the second phase of the project at a more leisurely pace. “It always takes longer when you have to live day-to-day in an ongoing project,” explains Andrew, “and logistically here we were swapping the kitchen from one side of the ground floor to the other, rather than just ripping out and replacing the existing one.”
However, 18 months after starting, the Lanham family were enjoying family meals at the large farmhouse table in their new kitchen/dining area before relaxing next door in what had become a spacious, split-level living room, now with a raised study area where the old kitchen used to be. “It’s always interesting – if not slightly daunting – as an architect when the time comes to design living space for yourself,” Andrew reflects. “But I think I overcame that by simply focusing on the best solution that could be achieved here for our family.”